This month has been a particularly busy one for us.. what with festival and holidays. But we found time to watch a movie together.
The movie, “Lunch Box” is one of the best I have seen in recent times. The story. to put it simply is about a young woman who is a great cook but has a very unappreciative husband. She cooks wonderful delicacies for her husband, packs them into his lunch box and sends them through the Mumbai Dubba system . By a unique chance of fate, there is a mix up and her lunch box does not reach her husband but an unknown man who works in an office somewhere in the city. This middle aged widower leads a lonely life and has no friends. He is initially surprised that the restaurant that usually sends him lunch has improved its quality so suddenly, but after sometime realizes that the lunch was not meant for him. The sender realizes it too. However she finds in this stranger a person who really appreciates her cooking! She sends him notes along with the lunch box to which he replies. It is initially about the cooking but after sometime they start sharing snippets about their lives. They start looking forward to these small letters accompanying the lunch box.
This story brought to light something that I am increasingly observing in our urban existence today. Many of us lead very lonely lives. There are some like the protagonist Sajan of the “Lunch Box” who are really lonely as they live alone, there are others who are part of a family but are lonely because they are unable to communicate with the rest of the family. The later category of individuals are much more in number than we would care to admit. There are those who spend hours at work and by the time they get home, are too tired to spend time connecting with family. And then there are those who do have the time but have nothing to communicate about. Husbands and wives leading separate lives under the same roof. No, I am not being judgmental.. I am just saying that it is a phenomenon that probably existed for sometime but what might be different now is that spouses who are feeling this sense of disconnect are trying to reach out to people outside of the family.
There are for instance, office relationships that are more than friendship. After spending nearly eight or more hours with a colleague it is but natural that a man or woman would relate to the colleague than to the spouse who they see after 6.00PM. All of us are familiar with this. But I see now another emerging trend. I find people reaching out to complete strangers.
This is particularly so with those who use social media like face book.! I have observed some people flirting online with absolute strangers!. While they may not actually approach a random person with a friend request, they often approach perspms who might be friend of a friend, someone whose interactions they have observed. This third party, generally somenone of the opposite sex might arouse their interest! Some of them are quite casual about this and refer to them as their “facebook friends” !! I don’t know if these people ever meet outside of the virtual world or are content with connecting with each other online. I don’t probe because I don’t want to know…
I am now beginning to wonder if people are doing this on the internet because of the anonymity it offers you? Like in the movie “Lunch Box” , does anonymity help in opening yourself up and saying and doing things that you may not do or say with a known person? Can you be yourself with someone you don’t know? I used to think it was the other way around. We lower our barriers and expose our innermost selves to those who are closest to us because we know they will not take advantage of us. But I think with a stranger it is probably the opposite. You don’t have to be yourself, you can be someone else! A quiet person can appear gregarious and a timid person can find courage to say outrageous things in a virtual context.
I remember when we were in school, there used to be this concept of having penpals. There was an organization called the International Youth Centre ( I think that was the name) where you could register for penpals. Invariably all of us girls wanted male friends from the western world. There used to be a few letters and then a request for photographs at which point we would stop corresponding !!! Some of our parents knew we had pen pals from Norway, Sweden or Timbuktu and some did not. In those days it was the only way to interact with someone male . We would pass this pen friend thing off as a school activity and parents would not bother us much about it. And the farther the country was the better ( as the fellow could definitely not find his way to your doorstep) it used to be. But those teenage fancies came to an end when we entered college and encountered real members of the opposite sex. The real interactions replaced the imagined ones.
But the reverse seems to be happening now. I am not a prude as in I think someone unhappy in a relationship has every right to seek solace in another one. But the question is whether a virtual one with a little known person is the right choice? I guess a stranger comes with his/ her own attraction and advantages. For instance there would be no gossip.. or that is what people think. But what they forget is that a virtual flirtation does not escape the notice of other friends. Sometimes they probably do guess others might be watching and might move on to the chat mode…!!
As a person who likes to observe society I would say that we are undergoing some sort of change. Today’s Indian woman , particularly the urban educated woman is not the quietly suffering kind. She may not do anything very spectacularly revolutionary but she is asserting herself by seeking out companionship to meet her own emotional needs. The social media and the anonymity it offers is probably the first step towards this. It gives her a confidence to voice things that a face to face interaction might not.
People might argue saying that such behavior is an indication of a breakdown of social institutions like marriage and family and I would be inclined to agree with them. Social institutions are but a creation of the need of the times. If human beings get their emotional sustenance through interfacing at the workplace or through the world wide web, then probably that is what the world is going towards. Children need not be conceived by man and woman coming together. Sperm banks and rented wombs might become the order of the day! Biological origin can remain anonymous. It really does not matter as long as society gets used to it.. Sometimes I think it might be better that way. Anonymous relationships might not bring with them problems like possessiveness and jealousy..!!! There might be less of violence and may be there would be more peace in this world?
What do you think?
( Wishing all of you a very happy Vijaydashami/ Dusshera and Eid)